In Russell Westbrook’s view, the next generation of creatives needs to be championed.

The Los Angeles Clippers superstar — in partnership with PepsiCo — shared in celebrating the unveiling of the Pepsi x Frito-Lay Refresh and Relax Lounge at the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design in Detroit, MI.

The student designers behind the creation of the lounge, Rodney Banks and Angel Buckens, were recognized for their work during the fourth annual National Black Footwear Forum. The two had created the winning design and were selected while participating in the PepsiCo Design & Innovation program. 

Russell Westbrook

“Diversity and design is extremely important,” Westbrook told AFROTECH exclusively. “There are so many talented people in this world, especially people of color, people of all races that are able to use their creative outlets to be creative, and to be able to create something like this is to me just a start. And I think it can be bigger and bigger each and every year and be able to give kids an opportunity to be able to be creative on all platforms. That to me is what I’m most excited about.”

Westbrook, who also is the founder and creative director of clothing brand Honor The Gift, was joined by footwear executives and professionals, policymakers, and supporters who shared a common interest in providing educational and career opportunities to Black talent in design.

“I try to use everything that I do across all businesses and particularly as it pertains to design,” Westbrook told AFROTECH. “I have my own brand Honor The Gift, which I try to, whether I use interns, whether it’s during my hiring process, whatever that may be, to bring young creatives I like to collab with. Whether it’s graffiti artists, whether it’s whoever that may be young and active and creative, because I think it’s important to be able to keep uplifting the younger parts of the community and diversifying my portfolio by doing that collectively, especially using my brand and using my platform. That’s the main focal point of the ways I try to do that.”

Westbrook’s presence at Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design makes all the more sense. The Historically Black College and University (HBCU), led by Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, is dedicated to aspiring Black creatives, business leaders, designers and engineers.

As AFROTECH previously mentioned, Edwards scaled his efforts by opening the first Black-owned athletic footwear factory in the United States to help students succeed in product creation.

Edwards’ intention remained crystal clear during the four-day event thanks to participating partners, such as PepsiCo. The beverage company donated $25,000 to nonprofit Diversity in Design, which will provide 250 Detroit high school students with hands-on experience in design. Also, through the PepsiCo Design & Innovation and Pensole Lewis College Design Thinking workshop, and a partnership with Chicago Mobile Makers, 20 students from seven Detroit high schools and organizations will receive skill-building design opportunities, according to the press release.

“With partners like PepsiCo using their resources to support and celebrate students at Pensole Lewis and local Detroit high schools, we’re able to demonstrate tangible impact for these students’ and, ultimately, the wider design community,” Edwards shared in the news release. “This program is a reminder that there are many paths to take in the design world, all that could benefit from more diverse points of view.”

Kent Montgomery, PepsiCo’s senior vice president, industry relations and multicultural development, shared in a statement: “Our mission is to address the diversity gap in design and education across Detroit and beyond by providing students with opportunities to channel their creativity and explore a career in design. With the support of partners who share our mission, from Russell Westbrook to Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, we hope that by recognizing, rewarding, and engaging with students we can encourage more to become part of the next generation of designers.”